The last twelve months have changed the way we live in many ways. Our work and shopping habits have altered, possibly irreversibly, and our diets have changed too.
Lockdown saw the nation turn to home baking; we became banana bread obsessed and began indulging in “fakeaways”.
We also took our one-hour exercise very seriously, embracing cycling, jogging, and even wild swimming in large numbers.
Yet tales of lockdown weight-gain have also been rife. Our television screens have overflowed with programmes about weight loss and dieting throughout the pandemic.
We now have a roadmap out of lockdown and 7 April marks World Health Day. Whether in honour of this annual event or in preparation for your re-emergence into the outside world, if you have been exercising and eating more healthily recently, you might not have seen the difference you’d hoped for. There could be good reasons for that.
Here are three dieting myths busted:
1. “Your exercise routine is failing if you don’t lose weight”
During the original UK lockdown, Joe Wicks became the nation’s PE teacher, providing 18 weeks of live-streamed workouts to help us all stay in shape. In January this year, he returned.
You might have been keeping up with a regular workout regime. If you have, or if you’ve taken up another form of regular exercise during the lockdown, you might not have seen the weight loss you’d hoped for. Remember, however, that exercise is about more than weight loss.
Regular exercise can, according to the NHS, reduce your risk of heart disease, strokes, and cancer by up to 50%. It can also lower your risk of early death by up to 30%.
As well as physical benefits, it can improve your mental health too. It can enhance your mood, your self-esteem, and make for a better night’s sleep. It could also help reduce your risk of stress, depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
These are all great reasons to stay active. If you feel like your efforts aren’t paying off when you step on the scales, remember the other reasons why you are doing it.
Remember too that exercise alone might not be enough to cause significant weight loss. You’ll need to amend your diet too.
2. “You just need to exercise more”
When you start a new regime of physical activity, you might burn a lot of calories initially. There comes a point, though, after which added exercise won’t lead to extra energy expenditure. This is one reason why you might see a large initial weight loss when you begin to exercise, followed quickly by a plateau.
The Guardian reported in 2016 that moderate exercise can burn around 200 calories more than doing no exercise at all. However, there is no difference between doing the moderate activity and increased exercise, in terms of calories burned.
This “sweet spot” for activity versus energy expenditure helps to explain the results of a 2010 study into obesity. It found that the Hadza people, hunter-gatherers from Northern Tanzania, expended the same energy as those living a “Western” lifestyle which involved much less daily exercise.
Science suggests that our bodies actively work to limit our calorie-burning, keeping it within a narrow, optimum band.
It might be natural to think that more exercise equals more weight loss, but your new regime is highly likely to burn fewer calories over time. Remember Myth #1, though, and don’t give up your gym membership just yet.
3. “This new diet is the perfect diet”
South Beach, raw food, cabbage soup – there are no end of diets out there to choose from.
While some are branded fad diets – or worse – some have been proven to help with weight loss through managing your calorie intake.
The Atkins diet involves limiting carbohydrates for an initial two-week period before phasing them back in slowly. It is high in protein and high in fat.
A ketogenic diet involves lowering your insulin levels so that your body has no carbohydrates to burn. When this happens, you enter “ketosis”. Your body is now burning ketones (fatty acid) rather than sugar. By keeping your carb intake low you can remain in ketosis. This means there is no gradual rising of carbs as there is with the Atkins diet.
The paleo (or palaeolithic) diet tries to recreate the diet of our palaeolithic ancestors. It does this by limiting dairy and grains and eliminating processed food. How closely this truly matches a palaeolithic diet is hard to say but if the diet works for you that’s great.
The point is that there is no one diet for everyone and a diet will only work if you can stick to it.
A diet that cuts out everything you enjoy has a high probability of failure. Cutting out foods you like can cause you to see those foods as treats, making the rest of the diet a chore by default.
A diet that fits into your existing lifestyle, that you can enjoy and turn into a habit and then a way of life, has a much better chance of success, and an increased likelihood that you will stick to it.